Recently, I had opportunity in deploying to Marion County, SC, serving our neighbors affected by Hurricane Florence. Our three-person team, including myself and two other Salvation Army employees, loaded supplies into our mobile kitchen unit/canteen (a camper-sized vehicle equipped with a full commercial kitchen inside). Then, we drove to the assigned area (Marion, Gresham, Sellars, Nichols), prepared a meal and served it to the community. For 12 days, we served meals before cleaning the unit and returning to Greenville as another team took over. By my estimation, our team served over 2,600 meals during our 12-day tour of duty. (Canteen pictured above)
I learned a few things while out in the field. Things I didn’t anticipate and would not have considered unless I was actively deployed:
I definitely underestimated how much of a problem mosquitos would be. We knew the area was without electricity and possibly running water, so we anticipated extreme heat and brought water bottles. However, we were not prepared for the constant, daily mosquito attacks. Some were as big as horse flies (pictured above)! Our first day into Sellars, SC, we drove a minivan that I parked in a grass field. I went to open the door and the passenger said, “Hold up man, don’t open the door.” I turned to look at him and he pointed to a gray cloud rising from the moist grass: mosquitos. Swarms of them. As I exited the van, they covered every inch of exposed skin. After that, we made sure to spray ourselves with bug spray every day. We invited local families to come each morning and sprayed them down for the day as well. As I watched the neighborhood we served, everyone carried an extra towel or a t-shirt. They used these to swat their backs, keeping mosquitos from biting through their shirts.
As we drove through areas which were under water only a week prior, I noticed vultures circling in groups. I saw two or three groups during a 40-minute drive! When I began paying more attention, I noticed dead carcasses on the road. Usually, one or two deer or wild boars lay on every overpass with guardrails, and I realized what must have happened. As floodwaters rose above the overpasses, the guardrails would hold a floating animal against the rushing water. Then, the animal would remain after the waters died down. For all twelve days, vultures were out circling when we left for the morning and when we returned at night. The vultures (pictured above) became a constant reminder of death in the area as we served people stranded in an area covered with dead animals.
I didn’t fully anticipate a few issues as I deployed to serve the Marion, SC region to serve food and water to those affected by Hurricane Florence. However, I was surprised and greatly encouraged each day to see how the human spirit rises in the face of disaster, to see faith in action.
Our first day serving in Sellars, SC, I was handing meals out of the window once we had cooked and were ready to serve. It was around 2 PM, and the sun was high, hot and sticky. My friends, the mosquitos, were fed well already. My other friends, the vultures, circled in the air as they waited to eat too. About 20 people were lined up and waiting for food while swatting mosquitos and talking with one another. Though beads of sweat dripped down their foreheads, I still saw smiles, laughter and hugs. I slid open the serving window and asked if I could pray before we ate together? To my surprise, a resounding “Yes, sir” echoed back. Immediately, hands rose in the air and eyes shut with shouts of affirmation. As I prayed, voices shouted praise to God, “Hallelujah, yes, Jesus!” I raised my voice in prayer, and the crowd raised their praise in response. It was powerful to see the gratitude of these humble communities as they helped each other together. We had so many return and express appreciation for our service in providing a single, hot meal. Every day, I heard general conversation about how good God was for taking care of needs.
A grandmother in the group asked for our address back in Greenville, and in the busyness of clean up--though it was nice to hear her ask—I honestly didn’t expect to hear from her. A week after returning to Greenville, we received an envelope with a few cards inside addressed to each worker. One read, “We will never forget you,” and the one I received read, “Thanks for what you did for us.” The letters were from some young girls who had come to the mobile kitchen each morning to be bug sprayed.
There is much to process as we serve our neighbors in the chaos of a recent catastrophe. It can be overwhelming amongst the loss, the heat, the mosquitos, the vultures. But there, in the middle of it all, is love for others. There is faith that things will get better. There is fellowship and hugs. There are kind words from a child.
Right there in the middle of the storm, there is Jesus.
Love God and love your neighbors; this command is not dependent upon our surroundings, current circumstance or our feelings. In practicing this as a lifestyle, we can experience joy in the midst of the storm.
So, we are again asked here today, “Why are you so afraid?”